The Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace

Episode 40

Loving your work, and stories of triumph, during a pandemic.

​Steve Clayton
Chief Story Teller
Microsoft​​

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In early 2020, I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to speak with Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton. Working in the engine room of one of the most innovative companies in the world, he always has an interesting story to share.
 
Our first conversation focussed on the importance of connecting with consumers via story telling. The interview was the most streamed IWP episode to date, so when the opportunity for a follow up conversation presented itself, I jumped at it.
 
We invited Steve to be a keynote speaker at the recent LiveTiles Love Your Work Festival. Steve talked about how he loves his work, and how he shares that love with his staff. He shared some heartwarming stories as he recounted some of the challenges faced by Microsoft and their customers due to Covid-19.
 
As always, Steve was a great guest, sharing his insights, telling his stories, and leaving this interviewer in awe of the work that he does.
 
Episode Links
https://www.microsoft.com/
https://podcast.livetilesglobal.com/
https://livetilesglobal.com/products/livetiles-reach/

Listen to the episode

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

 

 

 

 

[00:00:30]

Hi, I’m Chris Lukianenko, and this is the Intelligent Workplace brought to you by LiveTiles, my chance to speak with the industry experts and explore the new ideas and technologies that are shaping and transforming the modern workplace. LiveSmiles is a LiveTiles initiative designed to create a global community working together to make wellness at work an intrinsic part of our lives. The LiveSmiles solution is technology built on top Microsoft and LiveTiles platforms, and is provided to every company globally at no cost. LiveSmiles is not a product that is for sale, it’s a movement to accelerate the discussion of wellness into an active and intrinsic part of work, and to ultimately drive happier, healthier people at work and home. It’s a combination of tech, expertise, advocacy, and community involvement. LiveSmiles is driven and designed by its community. To find out more, click on the link in the show notes.

 

[00:01:00]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:01:30]

In early 2020, I was lucky enough to be able to get an opportunity to speak with Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton. He is an amazing guy. He works in the engine room of one of the largest and most innovative companies in the world. In that episode, we spoke about why storytelling in a business context is so important for connecting with your consumer, and it was the most popular episode I have made to date. So when an opportunity came up to invite him to the LiveTiles Love Your Work Festival as a keynote speaker, I jumped at it, and I thought that all of you might like to hear it as well. So this episode is the recording from that festival, where I talk to Steve about why he loved his work and how he shares that love with his staff. We also talk about some of the challenges Microsoft has faced during COVID-19, how some heart-warming stories have surfaced as a result of it, and how they’ve been helping their customers to get through it all.

 

 

[00:02:00]

As always, Steve was a great guest, sharing his insights, telling his stories, and leaving this interviewer in awe of the work that he does. Enjoy the conversation.

 

 

Steve Clayton, Chief Storyteller for Microsoft, welcome to the LiveTiles Love Your Work Festival.

 

Steve Clayton:

It’s great to be here, Chris. Good to see you again.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

 

 

 

[00:02:30]

Fantastic, mate. Thanks again for joining me. Now, you are, of course, Chief Storyteller for Microsoft which, as you know, I believe is one of the world’s greatest job titles. I want to tell you a little story about this week in the car with my young daughter as we’re driving to work and she’s asking me, “What are up to this week, Daddy?” I was like, “I’m talking to Steve Clayton on a video conference. He’s a chief storyteller for Microsoft.” You could see the look in her face was like, “What is that?” Her brain was ticking over and then she came back to me, she said, “Dad, does that Steve guy, does he go around to offices around the world and talk to people on the mat and read them a story?” I used to imagine you there with CIO on the floor in front of you reading this story about this is what Microsoft is up to. What [crosstalk 00:02:53] is it?

 

Steve Clayton:

[00:03:00]

It’s exactly how it is. It’s exactly how it is. It’s like Jackanory back when I was in the UK. It’s get to 4:00 or whatever it was, 4:30, and it’s like, “All right, children, sit around, it’s time for a story.”

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Time for a story. I love it, just the simple childlike view of the world was fantastic. It is an awesome role, I believe. But I’m going to ask you, do you love your work?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

[00:03:30]

I do. I often say to people that most days I feel like I get paid to do my hobby. If you get to that point in your career, well, most days you’re getting up and you’re excited to go to work. That’s how I feel. Not all days are like that. There’s no doubt, there are some more difficult days and some more challenging things, but it wouldn’t be fun if you didn’t have that element as well, if it was all plain sailing. But, yeah, I have an incredible job that has found me. Really, it’s how it went. I’m just very happy to be doing that every day.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

I think there was a famous philosopher from your part of your world called Macklemore who said something along the lines of, “Find something that you love and do it every day, and it’s not a job.” So that feels to me like what you’re up to.

 

[00:04:00]

Steve Clayton:

 

Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. I have this great friend of mine, it’s Hugh MacLeod who’s a cartoonist, he’s sort of the internet’s cartoonist in some ways, and very much his philosophy as well. A few of the cartoons I have of his that are framed in my office,

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Nice.

 

Steve Clayton:

… back in my real office, they share that philosophy of if you can find something that you really enjoy doing and you can make it your job, then you’ll never in theory work another day in your life because you’re getting paid to do your hobby.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

What gets you out of bed every day and into the real working world?

 

[00:04:30]

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

 

[00:05:00]

 

Right now what gets me out of bed every day is getting on my bike. But to get into the working world is just the arena that Microsoft that operates in is vast, the amount of people around the world who use our products and technologies for just a wide variety of different things, right? Anything from kids who are at school, writing a letter or using Flipgrid or using Teams to collaborate right now, to governments who’re using our technology to help with coping with the pandemic right now, to healthcare workers. Just every sort of walk of life is using Microsoft technology. So what gets me out of bed is this job that my team and I have, which is to go and shine a light on the things that people are doing with our technologies to hopefully change the world and make it a better place.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

You mentioned your team there, your employees, how do you help them to love their work?

 

[00:05:30]

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:06:00]

 

I think by giving them this arena that they can play in, that invites them to take risk is a big part of it. A lot of what we’ve done, and I think some of the best work we’ve done over the last seven or eight years has been where we’ve challenged ourselves to say, “Let’s go try something different and explore, whether it’s different storytelling tools or different types of storytelling.” Or frankly, even just getting into the so-called own storytelling business, which we did about seven years ago. And so a big part of my job is giving them the tools, but really more this environment to say, “Let’s go and continue to push the boundaries and take risks to do great storytelling.”

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Look, obviously, the pandemic has thrown the world into a real spin. It’s lockdown and work from home completely changing our working lives. As Microsoft Chief Storyteller, you pretty much hold the Microsoft narrative in the palm of your hand. What were your initial thoughts when you realized that we’re going into this global lockdown?

 

Steve Clayton:

[00:06:30]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:07:00]

I think my initial thoughts were we’re in a very fortunate position as a company and as a team and a set of individuals. The vast majority of my team, and certainly I, I could very quickly switch to working from home, have the technology, most days have the bandwidth to be able to not completely continue as normal, but to not miss too many beats. It’s a very different environment for us to work in. So that was my initial reaction, was, “Well, this is going to be a change.” But many of us were working a little bit from home occasionally anyway. So it was taking a piece of what we did and making that a permanent thing. And so there’s a lot of loss that comes with that as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:07:30]

And then very quickly after that was realizing that our company had this huge role to play in many different ways around whether it was other organizations like ours who were shifting to a complete virtual working or whether it was working with healthcare providers or local governments or people who needed technology to be able to try and create vaccines. And so we immediately saw and rallied the team around, “Let’s go and tell a sets of stories around things that we are doing that’s specifically a reaction to and in support of people trying to cope with the pandemic.”

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

So how exactly did you spin all those thoughts into that narrative?

 

Steve Clayton:

I wouldn’t say we necessarily have a narrative, because I think a narrative you know the story. And I think nobody quite knows where the story is-

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yeah, sure.

 

Steve Clayton:

[00:08:00]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:08:30]

… going, where it’s going to end. And so it was less about saying, “What’s the narrative?” And more saying… As an example, one of the stories we heard about really early on, Microsoft has a large campus here in Seattle where I’m based, which is very much like a large university. There’s about 15,000 people who typically are coming to that workplace on a daily basis, and there’s lots of cafeterias to feed those people. And so within the first few days it was this realization of, “Wow, we have all of this food that is now not going to be used. We have some options, we can just throw it away and it’s going to be wasted, which wouldn’t be great. And we have all this food that we’ve ordered.” Because you order two or three weeks ahead, so we have this supply chain that’s bringing food into our cafeterias.

 

 

And so a group of people in our cafeteria group, we call it Real Estates and Facilities, they, in a very entrepreneurial way said, “Hey, what we’re going to do is we’re going to create box lunches for local school kids.”

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Oh, wow.

 

Steve Clayton:

 

[00:09:00]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:09:30]

Because we live in an environment, like many of us do, where unfortunately for some kids, the only meal they get is when they go to school or that’s where they get a substantial meal. And so it’s like, “How can you use the resources that you have as a company?” And so we heard about that story and we rallied around pretty quickly. We brought together a writer on my team, a couple of photographers that we work with, and we went and took a look at this operation. And within a week, it was literally just this well-oiled operation. You went in, there was lines of people. There were giant pallets of food and bananas and cookies and all of this rigor and discipline around how do you get this things into a series of box lunches. I think it was about 5,000 boxed lunches per day they were shipping out by 9:00.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Wow.

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

[00:10:00]

It was then distributed out to the school districts who then put them on school buses, who then delivered them to the kids out in the regions. And so there were lots of stories like that of these heroic efforts by people inside of the company, by also heroic efforts of people outside of the company. We have this group of very talented storytellers, some of whom are writers, some are editors, people we work with who are illustrators, videographers and we said, “How do we marshal that team around telling this set of stories about people doing amazing things in response to the crisis?”

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

 

[00:10:30]

Ladies and gentleman, that is exactly why I’ve invited Steve on for a chat today. What an amazing story. That is just fantastic. So inspiring. So inspiring. Look, it’s not the first time that Microsoft would have been commended for their actions during the COVID-19 outbreak. You jumped into action pretty early in terms of protecting the employees and their jobs and their roles with you. Was it important for you as a global tech company and a leader in the industry to be seen to be doing the right thing very early on?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

[00:11:00]

 

 

 

 

[00:11:30]

I think it was less about that, Chris. Our number one job is to protect our employees. Fortunately or unfortunately, the first recorded outbreak of COVID was in a city called Kirkland, which is about four miles from where I live, and it’s about a mile and a half from our campuses. For me personally, one of my neighbors, both of them, the husband and wife in that household, they both work at Evergreen, literally where the outbreak was. And so it hit home for me very quickly. As an employer, our first response was, “Well, how do we help our employees?” Actually, it started before that as well, because the outbreak obviously began in China, and as a global company, we had a set of measures that we were taking in China in terms of people working from home and wearing masks, and all of the careful considerations you need to take into place.

 

 

 

 

[00:12:00]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:12:30]

There was a lot of insight we already gained from China that we were able to apply very quickly here. And then we also have a group of people within our company who are very well connected to, I’ll call them, the civic leadership within Seattle, so connected to the local government. There’s a lot of intelligence and insight in Seattle. We’ve obviously got the Gates Foundation here, Bill is still very connected to the company. We’ve got the University of Washington right here, a few miles away from where I live, and they have a very strong capability around infectious diseases and dealing with respiratory diseases. So in some ways, as terrible as it sounds, it was almost fortunate that was in Kirkland because you had this community of people who are able to rally around very quickly and offer this leadership to say, “We’re literally going move to working from home as quickly as we could.” And then other companies in the region who we work with and we talk with on things like this, like Amazon, a local company, Boeing, big local company, Starbucks, big local company T-Mobile, big local company.

 

 

 

[00:13:00]

So you have this collection of leaders who all had an opportunity to show leadership, and many of them did. And so I guess in answer to your question, it was less about being seen as, “Hey, we’re going to signal what everybody else should do,” but more about how do we react very quickly to protect our employees and then how do we marshal resources we’ve got as a company to help combat the pandemic.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Ethics and values, something really key to the way Microsoft drives the company, isn’t it?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

[00:13:30]

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, the last six or seven years of the company, there’s been this big body of work that I’ve been fortunate to be very involved in just around how do we evolve the culture of the company, thinking a lot about our values. We’ve talked a lot about that inside of the company over the last few years. We talk a lot about how do we build trust and technology and therefore trust in Microsoft as a company, so it’s at the heart of what we do.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

 

[00:14:00]

Something else you also did was made Microsoft Teams available globally for free, which helped with that transition for people from working in the office to working from home. How did you control that narrative, because there would have been many cynics out there that would have taken the opposite view of that and said, “Oh, well, you’re being a little bit opportunistic as opposed to really wanting to help and do the right thing.”?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

[00:14:30]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:15:00]

Yeah, I think it’s encumbered upon all of us as technology leaders, and it wasn’t just us, other companies did similar things. Also, it’s terrible to say it, but we’ve had experiences like this in the past, whether it’s during natural disasters like hurricane or earthquakes when access to communications becomes a lifesaving capability. And so things like we’ve done in the past around how do we make Skype calling free. So we’ve got experience of how to do this, and I think experience in how to show people that this isn’t something that we’re just doing to take advantage of a situation. It’s based on our principles of what we want to do as a company. We’ve got past history of doing these kinds of things. Fortunately, we’ve got the wherewithal and the capability. I mean, there’s no question, it also drove a huge amount of innovation because it put an enormous amount of pressure on teams and the infrastructure, the data centers, the networks behind that to drive a fast pace of innovation as well.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

I guess at the end of the day people will make their own mind up. But what you actually did was really facilitate that whole work from home revolution, if you like. I think it’s something like 80 million odd daily users on Teams now. So, really during a difficult time, you helped to keep the business world running, didn’t you?

 

[00:15:30]

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:16:00]

 

Yeah, I think, again, we’re fortunate that we have one of the technologies that people see that can enable them to do that. And so it gives me a lot of pride when my kids who now get up in the morning and they’ll be virtual schooling and they log on to Teams or they use Flipgrid. Actually, Teams is a big piece of it but there are a whole set of other technologies. Like Flipgrid is this amazing technology that we acquired a few years ago. I’ve not played with it much and then I started playing with it with my kids. And it’s just super cool, like really, really cool way to engage kids in particular. But Teams was at the heart of it, for sure. And then some of the things that we’ve done recently like the introduction of Together mode in Teams, I think is just fascinating-

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

I love that.

 

Steve Clayton:

… this ability to instead of having the so-called Brandy Brunch, all nine by nine window or whatever it is, you have this classroom type view. There’s some really, really cool stuff that’s come out of it as well.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

[00:16:30]

Yeah, no, it was excellent. I know from myself and my daughters their doing their schooling from home thing, I had more than a few calls from her teacher asking for a little bit of help on how to set up Teams, so that was great.

 

Steve Clayton:

Yeah.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

That Together mode, was that what you used in the NBA Finals?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

 

[00:17:00]

 

 

 

 

[00:17:30]

Yeah, it was actually. It’s a friend of mine who pioneered that. It’s a guy in Microsoft called Jaron Lanier. A lot of people don’t know Jaron works at Microsoft, but this guy’s basically the father of virtual reality. He literally coined the term many, many years ago. And he’s a prolific author, he’s an amazing speaker, he’s a phenomenal musician, just an incredible guy. Jaron has spent a lot of time over the last 20 or 30 years trying to figure out how do you mediate in as natural way as you can conversations through technology. He’s played with lots of different technologies from holographic technologies to virtualization, 3-D technologies. He was one of the pioneers behind Together mode. It was just cool to see him involved in it because I think he’s just a fascinating character and also applied a lot of brain science to it. He conducted a whole body of research around… This feels good but there’s actually scientific evidence around using that mode is less stressful on the brain than using the more traditional video mode that we have. And then, yeah, that was picked up and used in the NBA to create this crowd-like experience-

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Oh, it was so great.

 

Steve Clayton:

… which is very cool as well.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

[00:18:00]

I think, in my personal opinion, if it hadn’t been for that, the NBA Finals wouldn’t have been as great as they were this year. For those that didn’t see it, there was basically big screens around the court with all of these Together modes strewn around the court. That was the crowd. It was just brilliant.

 

Steve Clayton:

Yeah. Super cool. I mean, we’re now in the… at least in the UK I read… I’m from the UK originally, and I’m following the football there. Just this weekend, they’re going to allow limited crowds to go back and just start to watch the games. So there’s no replacing the real live crowd, but Together mode was a really cool way to do it for the NBA Finals.

 

[00:18:30]

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

Fantastic. Let’s change tack a little bit. One of the things I love about what you do is the way you’re able to find these fantastic stories from all the different corners of the globe. I’m sure that during the pandemic there was so many stories that were coming through to you. Can you think of any that maybe made you laugh or cry or maybe restore your faith in humanity somewhat?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

[00:19:00]

I’m thinking about one I talked about earlier one, that was a really special story, because I got the chance to literally go and see it and see this group putting together these boxes of food. It sort of made you laugh… maybe laugh’s not the right word, but it made me smile because it’s just the ingenuity of a group of people to say, “We’re not going to let this food go to waste.” But then also just the logistical expertise around it. But then it sort of makes you cry as well because it’s like in this day in age you’ve got kids who some days the only significant meal they’re going to get during the day. So it makes you cry as well.

 

[00:19:30]

But then there are other things just around the use of technology. One of the use cases I saw most recently was doctors in Imperial College Hospital in the UK, actually, who were using a HoloLens to be able to take people into wards. Obviously, when you’ve got people who are suffering from COVID, you want to be very restrictive about who is able to go into the room. They were able to use HoloLens almost like a teleportation technology to be able to allow people to go into the wards but obviously remain safe.

 

[00:20:00]

 

 

 

 

[00:20:30]

There are so many stories. There’re a whole set of stories that we’re working around work that we’re doing with some of the, I would say, sort of the biotech companies around how we can apply our technology at huge scale, like huge computing scale to be able to go look at the genomics of COVID-19. I’m certainly no scientist, but those stories around how we’re using technology to go and help identify cures or vaccines or how to use… things like convalescent plasma was a whole body of work that we did that was fascinating. There’s a lot of it. There are these very human stories like the school meals, and then there are these amazing technology stories about here’s how we’re applying technology in an incredible way.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

 

[00:21:00]

One of the great stories coming out of Australia was from one of your senior managers out here who couldn’t work within the home anymore, he’s disturbing the family too much. So he built himself this little office out in the back corner of his yard out of… I think it was an old refrigeration container so it was soundproof, so that sort of thing with a great big window and he could go work from home any day he liked with this fantastic view of his backyard. It was just fantastic.

 

Steve Clayton:

It’s called the return of the potting shed as being of the great outcomes of COVID-19.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

I’m sure there are other great stories of your staff doing great things during this time. Overall, how did they cope with the whole working from home thing?

 

[00:21:30]

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

 

 

[00:22:00]

 

I think people have coped remarkably well. I’m told there were a couple of elements to it. One is people have been able to adapt very quickly. Obviously we were using Teams a lot anyway, but it enabled us to become power users of Teams very, very quickly. I would say the things that have really started to grow is in the past I would say people were using Teams for projects and for meetings or for virtual calls. Now there’s much more collaboration I see on Teams and even within calls. If I look at the calls that my team do, there is as much of the conversation happens in the chat window as happens in the video windows now. So people are really just getting very comfortable being in that environment.

 

 

But I think people are also recognizing that we have to change the way we work as well because now we’re all six, eight, nine months into this. It’s clearly taking its toll on people, right? It’s exhausting to sit in front of a screen for your entire day.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yeah.

 

[00:22:30]

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:23:00]

 

And so being very intentional about taking breaks and getting outside. We talked about that a lot in my team over the last few weeks. I literally had a behavioral psychologist come and talk to the team just around how to deal with resiliency and how you should thinking about just planning your work day, planning your week, thinking about your physical health, thinking about your mental health. One of the areas where I do think we’re doing more work as a company, and I think you’ll see more of this over the next few months is around how do you bring some of that mental health capability into the technology as well and encourage people to take a break from technology. Because the fatigues is real, right?

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yep.

 

Steve Clayton:

We all get to the end of the day and we’re burnt out.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

 

 

[00:23:30]

Yeah, absolutely. We’re thinking along the same lines here at LiveTiles with our LiveTiles Vive product for sure. One of the things I think is really missing from the workplace now is those casual interactions where you bump into each other at the water cooler or when you’re in the coffee room making a coffee. Those casual conversations don’t seem to exist. Is there anything technology can do to help us with those?

 

Steve Clayton:

Technology can help, but it’s never going to recreate them. I think we tried to recreate them within my team, so we have this thing every week. Initially we did it three times a week and now we do it once a week for 30 minutes to an hour. We have a so-called optional hangout. There’s no agenda, people are not obliged to show up, and they just show up. If they do, we hang out and we chat about whatever we want to chat about that’s not really work related.

 

[00:24:00]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:24:30]

And so that recreates it somewhat. I think that’s the big thing that a lot of us miss, right? Satya talked about this a few months ago in the… I think it was a New York Times piece. He talked about how we’re using up all the social capital that we’ve built up between each other over the many years we’ve worked. That’s what we’re eating our way out right now, is our social capital, that it many way lots of the work went on between the meetings with the walking to the meeting with somebody or leaving the meeting room and you’d have a conversation or a followup or you’d bump into somebody that you didn’t expect to and you’d get a piece of information that sort of changed your day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:25:00]

All we can do is try to artificially recreate those things. And then there are other things that we can do to help break up the day. One of the things that we’re doing with Microsoft 365 is introducing this virtual commute, which the first time I heard it I was like, “What, why, and why would I need a virtual commute for?” But my commute to the office, right, and for many people was time when… For me it’s 25 minutes in the morning and then usually it was 35 or 40 minutes at the end of the day. But it was time where I could prepare for my day and that I could finish my day and mentally decompress. So we’re going to be bringing in that type of capability into the technology to give this gentle nudges to people to say, “Hey, you might want to book out time for yourself.”

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

That’s good. That’s great idea, yeah.

 

Steve Clayton:

Technology can help, but I don’t think it’s going to replace that personal connection.

 

[00:25:30]

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

Yeah. So obviously the way forward seems to be more of this what we’ve got here today and less face to face. I’m just wondering, can you do your best work virtually? You talked before about working with Satya, how do you go if you’re trying to pitch him an idea and you can’t see his reaction to you on his face there in the room? Do you still get that same feeling being sent to you across a video chat or is it a little bit more difficult for you?

 

Steve Clayton:

[00:26:00]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:26:30]

I still get it from him, I can assure you of that. When I’m pitching stuff to him, I’m pretty sure where I’m at with things. But I think it holds true for everybody, right, it’s difficult to read body language, to read other signals that would get in a meeting. If you’re sat around a circular table, then you just get a sense of are people engaged? Are they leaning forward? Are they taking notes? Are they looking at something on their phone? You can’t really get that sense anywhere near as much in this type of environment. And you certainly can’t get it if people switch their cameras off. That’s a whole social discussion as well that I’ve had lesser with my team but more with neighbors. We had this big discussion a few weeks ago. We sat in the garden and we’re chatting about video cameras and saying, “Why would people not have them on?” Some people don’t want to show the insides of their houses.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yeah, true.

 

Steve Clayton:

Some people want to protect their privacy, and I totally respect that. But without the cameras on, it creates another barrier, so it’s tough.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

[00:27:00]

Speaking about being outside, I know that you’re a cyclist. We mentioned that a bit earlier. I follow you on Instagram, I’ve seen lots of your photos from around the Seattle area when you’re out and about on your bike. I’m just wondering, has this whole work from home setup allowed you to be pretty flexible in the way that you meet and have you ever taken a team’s call on your bike?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

[00:27:30]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:28:00]

I haven’t taken a team’s call on my bike. I’ve been very tempted to listen in to some team’s calls on my bike, just because there are those calls where you do dial in to get information and listen versus participate. There’s one of those a week that I participate in. To be honest, I’ve never really done it mainly just from a safety point of view. I’m nervous about being on my bike and being destructed. But in terms of the flexibility, one of the things that I talk about it a lot with my team about being on my bike, not because I’m trying to make them feel bad that I’m on my bike and they’re not, but more to give them the permission to say… I’ll have a 2:00 meeting and I’ll say, “I just got back from a bike ride.” Because I want to give people the permission to say, “Well, you don’t have to do your bike ride at the start of day before work or at the end of day after work. Because those boundaries have just changed, right?

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yeah.

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

[00:28:30]

You’ve got to plan your day around fitting these things in while you can. If that means you say, “You know what? I’m going to take two hours off in the afternoon or I’m going to take Thursday afternoons off or I’m going to not work on a Friday morning.” Everybody’s got to find their own way in this new world. I think as leaders, the job for us is to model the right behaviors and to make people feel not guilty and feel comfortable about planning their day as best they can.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yeah. One rule though, mate, please do not turn up to a team’s call in your full body Lycra.

 

Steve Clayton:

I will not be doing that.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

 

[00:29:00]

We’re the same here at LiveTiles. I’ve been doing walking the dog meetings. During winter, we had an everyday whip. So I’d walk the dogs until one day when I workshop working down onto the bike ramp down near home and it was icy. I was on full video, call walking down there, completely lost footing because it was all iced over, and landed flat on my back. After that, no more video while I’m walking, it’s just purely audio.

 

Steve Clayton:

Yeah, that’s tough.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

 

 

[00:29:30]

I just want to change approach a little bit again and talk about a story that’s been doing the round of late since the pandemic began, and that was the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma. It’s been a worldwide hit, informative for some, but maybe scaring the pants off some other people who didn’t know maybe how the whole internet world works. Even though the documentary doesn’t talk about Microsoft directly, have you had to engage in discussions around it?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

[00:30:00]

Not in a significant way, no. It’s a topic that within the industry, for sure, is one that is being given a lot more attention, and rightly so, I think over the last couple of years. I thought it was a fascinating documentary. I mention Jaron earlier, my friend, Jaron features in it heavily, and he’s been a very strong proponent of this whole approach of being much more thoughtful about our use of social media and particular about how our data is used and who gets paid for our data. He did a great Ted Talk on this two years ago at Open Ted and was widely regarded as the best talk at Ted that year. He wrote a book a year ago called Ten Reasons To Delete Your Social Media Account Right Now.

 

 

 

[00:30:30]

I talk a lot with Jaron about this stuff. Frankly, it’s changed my behavior on social media, I don’t spend as much time on it. I am aware of the mechanism behind social media, and I’ve been trying to educate my friends and family about it. But it’s not something that we’ve been engaged in or have to be engaged in in as much detail as a company. Other companies who’ve certainly had a lot more scrutiny around it over the last few months than we have.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Where does Microsoft stand on some of the ethical points that were raised in the documentary then?

 

Steve Clayton:

[00:31:00]

 

 

 

 

[00:31:30]

 

 

 

 

[00:32:00]

I think the fundamental thing is trust, is about building a trusting relationship with our customers and being transparent around the data and the use of that data, and specifically around the fact that their data is their data. We’ve been fortunate that things have come along, in particular GDPR a few years ago, that whilst it was intended and is a body of law for European citizens, we decided to take on the requirement of GDPR and make them available to all of our customers. So that put in a lot of requirements that we’re happy to comply around how your data is used, the transparency around where data is collected. But fundamentally, we build technology, we build services that we want people to trust. We believe that they do. It’s not something that we take for granted and it’s something we’ll continue to do. But that’s another fundamental piece, is how do we ensure that we are operating in a way that continues to build to trust and operate in a way that is transparent, in particular around customer’s data and how it’s used?

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

What about as a father, was there anything in it that made you think differently about the industry that you work in?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

[00:32:30]

No differently than I already had, because as interesting as it was, it’s something I’ve followed for a few years. Again, talking with Jaron and also another guy at Microsoft, a guy called Glen Well who’s an economist, who thinks a lot about this stuff as well. And so it didn’t really change my approach, it more just emboldened and also just personally made me think… I think more often think about my own use of social media.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yeah, it has certainly made me think about it for sure.

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

[00:33:00]

 

 

 

 

[00:33:30]

I think the other thing I also want to add onto that is my kids are probably a little bit young to show them that. I’m not sure that they would understand all the nuances of it. But at the point they are old enough, then I certainly will expose them to it, because I think that they’re getting to being old enough to understand that these systems are designed to capture your attention. It’s something I talk a lot about in storytelling funnily enough, is the reason I think storytelling has risen so much in the last eight to 10 years has been this recognition of how do we capture people’s, not just their attention but their imagination. Right now our attention is being captured by this bright, flashy things very quickly that grab our attention. I think it’s why storytelling has become more prevalent in terms of engaging people in a much deeper way rather than just having this very fast attraction.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yeah, you’re so right, than in the last eight to 10 years, the storytelling within the world, whether it be in the tech industry or other industries has just gone to next level. I think, mate, that perhaps what you’ve been doing at Microsoft is just a little piece of that, do you think?

 

[00:34:00]

Steve Clayton:

 

I think so. We got on our journey early and realized that we had… I’ve known for a long time, well before I started this job, that we’ve got incredible untold stories at this company about people, about inside of the company, about things that people outside of the company are doing with our technology. The media is not always going to want to tell those stories for a variety of reasons.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yeah, sure.

 

[00:34:30]

Steve Clayton:

 

That’s totally fine. We began this journey of storytelling in earnest about seven or eight years ago because we recognized that and said, “We have a set of stories that we feel need to be told and we’re going to do them in a professional way.”

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Now, speaking of the external to Microsoft, they say that during times of crisis, that’s the birth of innovation in some ways. Opportunities open up. Microsoft is certainly the front there both in house and with external partners and that sort of thing. What have you heard from the community of late about the startups that are doing great things during these tough times?

 

[00:35:00]

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

 

[00:35:30]

 

Startups is an area where we’ve invested a lot, I would say, and particular over the last four or five years. There’s a great story about another new team recently around Jeff Mar and the work that he’s doing with startups, and obviously he’s a product of that community, having bought four very successful startups himself. He’s now leading our team that engages with startups. I think it’s an area where it was right landscape for us. We have amazing technology, in particular with Ezra and particular with our developer tools. Software startups very much they’re built on code and we’ve got things like the world’s most used software development tool and visual studio. We recently, or a couple of years ago, acquired GitHub, which is where most developers are now creating their work.

 

 

 

[00:36:00]

So we have this incredible set of assets and then you add onto to that our cloud services, you add on things like our cognitive services, you add on just the expertise, frankly, that we can build… sorry, bring to that community. And it’s a landscape full of opportunity for us. It isn’t just in Silicon Valley as well. I think that’s one of the things that sometimes frustrates me is this common misperception that all innovation happens in Silicon Valley, and even the fact that Silicon Valley is used as this catch-all term to include Seattle. Seattle isn’t in Silicon Valley the last time I looked.

 

[00:36:30]

And so innovation happens all over the world. Some of the greatest innovations I’ve seen in the last five years came out of the continent of Africa and just the amount of software developers who are coming through the education system there, the ingenuity that they have. So it’s this classic phrase of the talent is evenly distributed but the opportunity is not. I think a big job for us is how do we more evenly distribute that opportunity around software development and startups?

 

[00:37:00]

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

At the moment, the future is a little uncertain while we wait for this vaccine for things to get back to the new normal as we keep saying. But there are exciting opportunities that are coming up. What is exciting you about the future of Microsoft and what they might provide for us out in the user community?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

[00:37:30]

There’s a lot of things. I mean, one of the beauties of my job is I get to just talk to so many people doing incredible things inside of the company, just amazing stuff with HoloLens. And I look at the work that we’re doing there and how that has the potential to transform meetings in particular. So I think that will be a fascinating area to watch. One of the areas of technology I watched for probably the last four or five years and worked closely with is the team who’re working on quantum computing. And that’s the next big frontier for computing in many ways, and it’s a very competitive environment with ourselves and Google and IBM and a number of others who are chasing this quest to build a scalable quantum computer. I feel very optimistic about the work that our team is doing there.

 

[00:38:00]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:38:30]

And then the impact of that that will have, I think people, they haven’t really got their head around it yet, of the ability that that will have to be able have a computer that is powerful enough to be able to model the physical world down to the molecular level in a way we’ve never been able to do before. And so it starts to provide us with a technology that can really go after the biggest challenges on the planet around global warming and around how do you get carbon out of the atmosphere, how do you reduce the amount of water that’s used in farming or the amount of pesticides that are created that have a detrimental effect on the environment. And so the potential for that technology in particular, I think is the one that, I would say, I’m most excited about.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yeah, there is an amazing story on your website around that sort of stuff, isn’t there, that’s released just recently?

 

Steve Clayton:

 

[00:39:00]

Yeah, we’ve done a ton of work trying to explain quantum because it’s not the easiest subject. And so everything from four or five years ago, we did this really cool animated chalkboard, like a classic green chalkboard from a school with white chalk that explained. It was a 101 on quantum computing. If you want to understand quantum, it remains one of the best mini tutorials.

 

 

But I should also say, one of the areas or one of our labs doing some of the most important work around quantum is in Australia. We have a couple of different locations that are really pioneering our quantum work. One of them is in your neighborhood.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

[00:39:30]

Just drawing myself a note here to go and get up to speed on quantum computing. Mate, just to round this whole chat out here today, it’s been fantastic talking to you. Maybe you can just leave with some thoughts on how we as users of Microsoft can use your products to help us love our work even further.

 

Steve Clayton:

That’s a great question, how can you use the products? Well, hopefully people are using the product and loving them.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yes.

 

Steve Clayton:

[00:40:00]

Just going back to that quantum discussion, one of the things I really love about Microsoft, and I talk about this internally, is the spectrum of innovation. If you think about HoloLens or you think about my lovely new Surface Duo device here, things like that-

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Nice product placement, mate.

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

[00:40:30]

Yes. Or you think about quantum computing and you think about the work we’re doing on AI, that’s breakthrough innovation. But some of the things I love are what I call every day innovation. They’re just these little delightful things in our software in places that I find them wonderful. In PowerPoint, we added this AI-powered piece of technology, over a year ago now, called PowerPoint Designer. If you’re not a great PowerPoint designer, which I’m not, it helps you create beautiful PowerPoint slides. One of the things that we added in Teams recently was transcription.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Oh, yeah.

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

[00:41:00]

Translation is in there as well. We take it for granted now that we can just turn on live transcription and you have transcription across the bottom screen. It’s super cool. Two other things that I will tell you, these are going to sound incredibly trivial but I use both of them every single day, is if you’re inside of a Microsoft product like Outlook or Word, if you press the Windows key and period or Windows key and full stop, you get this little window that pops up with a set of emojis-

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

I love it. I use it every day.

 

Steve Clayton:

Every day.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yep.

 

Steve Clayton:

And it’s just like this delightful little thing. It’s just magic.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Would you know, my young daughter showed me how to do that?

 

Steve Clayton:

Exactly. The kids live on emojis, right?

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Yep.

 

Steve Clayton:

[00:41:30]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:42:00]

But I think a lot more of us do now in this world we’re converting them into virtual. And then the other thing I do, I’m fortunate enough to have multiple different screens that I work from at home and two different PCs actually. A few years ago, we released this piece of technology called Mouse without Borders, and I had forgotten about it. And so in my office I have a computer here that I’m talking to you on now. I have another computer off to the right that has a separate keyboard and mouse, which is just a pain, right? Because you keep getting confused about which mouse and keyboard to use. And then I remembered this piece of software called Mouse without Borders, which basically virtualizes your mouse across up to I think four different screens-

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Oh, wow.

 

Steve Clayton:

 

 

 

[00:42:30]

… and matching your keyboard. And so I now have this mouse that it spans this expansive screens in my office. It’s unbelievably cool. It’s free, you just download and install it. It’s incredibly easy to use. And so as much as I love stuff like quantum and stuff like devices and Surface and HoloLens is amazing, I love stuff like that as well, because it just makes me smile, those little things.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Well, I have to say, as a podcaster, thank you very much for the Word 365 transcription service that’s now available. That is fantastic.

 

Steve Clayton:

Yeah, that is pretty damn handy.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

 

 

 

[00:43:00]

It is so clever, so clever. Steve Clayton, as always, mate, thank you so much for joining me and just sharing some of the Microsoft world with us. It’s always fantastic to talk to you. You’re always leave me with a sense of wonderment about what you do at Microsoft. It’s just great to hear the stories. Thank you so much joining us here today at the Love Your Work Festival.

 

Steve Clayton:

It’s a pleasure to be here, Chris, always good to chat with you, mate.

 

Chris Lukianenk…:

Cheers, mate.

 

 

Thanks for joining me on the Intelligent Workplace podcast, brought to you by LiveTiles. If you have any feedback or want to suggest a guest for a future show, email podcast@livetiles.nyc. Thanks for listening, I’ll catch you-

 

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